The greatest work we have to do is on ourselves; the biggest project we’ll ever have is ourselves. Most people, however, have neither the luxury, energy, aptitude nor interest to make their own self their greatest undertaking. None of these four, by the way, is necessarily determined by what popular opinion and folk knowledge (never the final arbiters) tell us is its most necessary coefficient.
The luxury to be oneself is only partially determined by money. Time, free time, is more important. And that is neither bought, borrowed nor begged; it’s stolen. Stolen from society, stolen by my free will and the individualism that gives me the balls to tell society to kiss my ass when it gets in my way.
The energy necessary to the project of being oneself has less to do with good health, stamina, virility, cardiovascular prowess than with mental determination and dedication to me, as well as unflinching faith in myself first and foremost, certainly before I put faith in anything outside myself.
Likewise, the aptitude required for such an all-consuming undertaking lies not so much in intelligence or spiritual refinement (helpful as those are) as in a strong will—which every child has until it’s beaten out of him—a will not to power in the Nietzschean sense but to the power inherent in self-determination and one’s own truth. An instinctive power, and as such an effective connection with my own instincts, at least those that serve the goal of being me, living my own life.
Finally, the interest needed to achieve even a modicum of success in this greatest of all tasks would seem self-evident, but can be the most difficult of the four requirements to come by. For it will only be there in sufficient quantity to warrant any measure of achievement if the first three are. Ironic as it may seem, it transcends self-interest. It is grounded in an insatiable spirit of enquiry and revolt: enquiry that takes skepticism as its starting point and revolt that accepts no answer for how things ought to be that does not vie with my own instincts, perceptions, sensibilities.
Absent an unflinching interest in knowing who I am ontologically, psychologically and in every category of being—and knowing how the experiment I call my life fits into the big picture, the cosmic game (which includes the social lie, the political fricasee, the conundrums of faith)—I can only be said to be half-heartedly at best engaged in the project of my own life. To paraphrase the I Ching, there may be success but not much; certainly not the success that speaks to my having addressed the greatest undertaking a man or woman could devote themselves to.
A final point. Being fortunate in the four areas just described in no way indicates an easy life, or one blessed either by emotional or material stability, a journey free of neurotic hells, short-circuited insights and interactions that painfully misfire, alienation, social nightmares, chemical lacerations leading to physical debilitations and/or moral degradations, not to say mental and sexual aberrations upon which fall the shadows of self-destruction and sensations of dismemberment, derangement and a longing for annihilation.
But for all this and through all this one has been building one’s own house so to speak; or, put otherwise, directing the evolution of one’s own being and becoming. You reach an age where, having stuck to your guns, having done as much as possible of it your own way—and maybe even having been a bit lucky—you know beyond a shadow of doubt that you did the right thing living a self-determined life, being a rebel and a free-thinker.